WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
Barrett’s Chapel is the oldest surviving church building built by and for Methodists. It was built in 1780 on land donated by Philip Barrett, a successful politician and newly converted Methodist, and is located north of Frederica, in Kent County, Delaware. With the end of the American Revolution and peace at last in the newly formed country, John Wesley sent Thomas Coke to America in 1784 to find Francis Asbury and discuss the future of American Methodism. Coke came to Barrett’s Chapel on Sunday, November 14, to preach with the hope he’d find Asbury there. During the service, Asbury arrived and Coke left the pulpit to embrace him. A star on the floor of the chapel commemorates this historic moment. It was at this service that the sacraments of both baptism and communion were first administered by ordained Methodist clergy.
After the service, Coke and Asbury walked across the field to the home of Miriam Barrett, Philip’s widow, and with nine other Methodist preachers, Coke explained John Wesley’s plan. He explained that Wesley had ordained Coke a superintendent so that he may ordain Asbury a co-superintendent so that the movement may continue to grow and flourish. The modern church calls this position a bishop. However, Francis Asbury, who had stayed loyal to the colonies and ideals of democracy, refused to be ordained that evening. Instead, it was decided that Freeborn Garrettson would ride on horseback and call the Methodist preachers to Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland, over the Christmas holiday so that they could vote on Asbury’s ordination.
While waiting for the second meeting, Coke and Asbury rode together for 900 miles around the countryside preaching to all who would listen. After six weeks of waiting, on December 24, 1784, nearly sixty of the eighty-one Methodist preachers assembled at Lovely Lane Chapel and voted unanimously to ordain Rev. Francis Asbury bishop. Asbury was ordained a deacon on Christmas Day, an elder on December 26th, and bishop on the 27th. Coke preached Asbury's ordination service and said of Asbury, “In the presence of Mr. Asbury, I feel myself a child. He is in my estimation, the most apostolic man I ever saw, except Mr. Wesley.”
The meeting at Barrett’s Chapel on November 14, 1784, led to the creation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the ordination of Bishop Asbury, and the first celebration of baptism and communion by ordained Methodist clergy. All of this happened because Philip Barrett built a church and, for this, I am truly grateful this Thanksgiving. May you also be blessed with a place to meet and people to love this holiday season.
Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.